Fiji choose new look in Sevens bid

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 March, 1994, 12:00am

FALLEN champions Fiji have picked seven new faces in their 10-strong squad for the Cathay Pacific/Hongkong Bank Invitation Sevens at the Hong Kong Stadium on March 26-27.

Fiji, who won the tournament three times on the roll from 1990 to 1992, were beaten by their South Pacific island rivals Western Samoa in a ferocious final last March.

And a new coach, Aliposo Waqaliti, will be trying to win back the coveted Sevens crown with a new-look squad led by their seven-a-side magician, Waisale Serevi, and including only one other player from last year - forward Sakiasi Vonolagi.

The only other player with Hong Kong Sevens experience is 34-year-old policeman Pita Naruma, a prop forward who played in the 1985, 1986 and 1988 tournaments.

After watching an East Fiji side beat the Fiji national team 28-12 in the final of the Fiji International Sevens in Suva yesterday, coach Waqaliti said: ''It is a new team with lots of names the Sevens fans will not recognise but one selected to win the tournament.

''That is our goal and we will be trying to get the right combination because all the players are from different clubs.

''In the past Fiji were criticised for sticking with the same players but now we may be criticised for not having enough experience. We will see.'' The selection was delayed for a week to find a ''rover'' to feed off the play of Serevi.

And the selectors have finally found him in the form of Joeli Vidiri, an unemployed 21-year-old centre or winger who was the Fiji secondary schools 100 metres champion in 1989 and has a personal best time of 10.6 seconds.

''He is big and strong and powerful and can score a try from wherever he receives the ball,'' said the coach.

Missing from the Fiji squad this time is giant forward Mesake Rasari, who scored two tries when Fiji beat New Zealand 22-10 in the 1990 final to begin their three-year domination of the tournament.

Japan-based Rasari, who was referred to as a ''perambulating lighthouse'' by leading rugby commentator Bill McLaren, is still having problems with a knee injury which restricted his play last season.

His replacement in the lighthouse department is Emori Bolobolo, who is said to be of a similar build but even faster than Rasari.

The squad is - Forwards: Pita Naruma, Viliame Satala, Sakiasi Vonolagi, Emori Bolobolo, Sailosi Nawavu. Backs: Jona Vibose, Manasa Bari, Joeli Vidiri, Waisale Serevi (captain), Josateki Savou.

In yesterday's final in Suva, Fiji's first string were no match for a harder and hungrier invitational team from East Fiji containing many players vying for selection for the Hong Kong Sevens.

Earlier on Saturday, East Fiji defeated a near full-strength New Zealand seven 21-14 in a thrilling semi-final.

Locked at 14-14 at the end of normal time and playing sudden-death, East Fiji scored immediately from the kick-off to eliminate the New Zealanders.

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said later: ''We'll be a far better team in Hong Kong.'' He said New Zealand had now decided to develop a specialist squad to contest the increasing number of sevens tournaments.